We’ve all heard of ‘helicopter parents’ – the ones who hover over their child’s lives, paying close attention to every detail (especially when it comes to education). Now it seems there’s a relatively new kid on the block – the ‘lawnmower parent’.
These take it one step further than the helicopters. They don’t just linger overhead; they get down in front of their kids to clear the way. They aim to smooth away rough patches, move any stones from the path before their child even gets there.
This style of parenting was recently highlighted in an online essay published on Babyjourney.net. The piece, by an anonymous teacher, went viral and put lawnmower parents firmly in the spotlight.
According to the writer, lawnmower parents “go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure. Instead of preparing children for challenges, they mow obstacles down so kids won’t experience them in the first place.”
Now, none of us wants our children to encounter too many difficulties in their lives. And I’ll hold my hands up and admit I’ve been guilty on occasion of going out of my way to make things easy for my kids. Does that mean I’m a lawnmower parent? Are you? Here are a few clues to help you decide.
1How much ‘help’ do you give them with homework?
Most of us take more than a passing interest in how our kids are doing at school. We’ll ask if they have any homework and, if we’re honest, nag them a bit about doing it. For most of us, it stops there.
Helicopter parents go a step further. They’ll check the online parents’ portal or their child’s study journal to see exactly what’s supposed to be done and when. They’ll make sure everything is completed, on time and to an acceptable standard.
And then there are the lawnmower parents. They do the homework with their children. In some cases, they do it for them. They’ll check the content and spelling, and correct it if necessary. The thing is, this doesn’t help your child. All you’re doing is showing their teachers how smart you are. And what will you do when the exams roll around? You can’t sit alongside your child then.
2Do you drop off forgotten items?
Our last-minute, pre-school-run check generally consisted of asking the kids if they had everything they needed. If there was something specific – a particular project or payment for a class trip – we might double-check that.
A helicopter parent is more likely to go through an itemised checklist – books, sports kit, water bottle, packed lunch and so on. And a lawnmower parent, should it transpire something has been left behind, will rush the forgotten item into school as soon as possible. Even if it means being late for work or changing their plans.
“Lucy used to forget her swimming kit nearly every week,” recalls Karen, a former neighbour. “It got so that going home again to fetch it for her became part of my routine. Then one week, I had an important meeting for which I couldn’t be late. Lucy didn’t get her kit, so she couldn’t go swimming. She spent the afternoon doing extra work in the library. The world didn’t end, and she started to make more of an effort to remember her stuff.”
3Do you argue with teachers about your child’s grades?
If we’re honest, most of us have felt at some stage that our child wasn’t given a high enough mark on a test or a project. We might have muttered under our breath, but generally, we accept it. At most, we might make a mental note to discuss it at the next parent-teacher evening.
But if your child truly feels they should have been marked higher, what do you do then? Contact the teacher yourself to talk about it? If so, you’re not helping.
Being able to state their case clearly and respectfully is an important skill for anyone to have. You’re doing your child no favours by depriving them of the opportunity to learn. Let them go and talk to their teacher to discuss the situation.
4Do you head off conflict before even raises its head?
It’s one thing to keep an eye on younger kids to make sure squabbles don’t develop into something serious. Helicopter parents will go slightly further, hanging around to diffuse tense situations before they start.
And lawnmower parents will circumnavigate the possibility entirely. Only close friends will be invited for playdates, and those they can be sure won’t cause conflict. They might even buy duplicate toys to ensure there are no fights when both children want the same thing.
The problem is, while this may lead to some enjoyable times, it’s not building our child’s social skills. They need to learn to share and to resolve arguments. They need to be able to handle it if someone wants to do something they don’t.
5Do you always pick up after them?
Sometimes it’s easier just to pick up all those dirty socks from the floor. We get it. Maybe they enjoy a cup of tea in bed while they read a book, and now and then you clear away half a dozen dirty mugs.
If you’re doing all your kid’s chores and tidying up after them without even mentioning it, you’re behaving like a classic lawnmower parent. You don’t want your child to struggle, even at home.
When our son was a teenager, one of his jobs was to put out the rubbish bins (trash cans) each week for collection. He’d often forget and go off to play football. I’d end up doing it, rather than leave it and have my son face his father’s wrath later on. It took me a while to realise this wasn’t helpful to anyone – least of all me!
6Was it really your kid’s college/university application?
One of the final acts many lawnmower parents perform for their child comes when it’s time to apply to college or university. They’ll do the research, work out which subjects their child should study, and compile lists of preferred establishments. They’ll even fill out the form and write their child’s personal statement for them.
Well done. Your child is about to head into the big, wide world away from home – with no idea how to handle the trials and tribulations that are bound to come their way.